HC Deb 31 May 1832 vol 13 cc259-61
Mr. Trevor

rose, pursuant to his notice, for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the existing enactments relative to the sale of Beer in Beer-shops. He was aware he should have several prejudices to contend with, in combatting a Bill which was considered a boon at the time. He had, however, for some time watched the operation of the Act which had been passed for placing the sale of beer upon a different footing from that upon which licensed victuallers were placed. From all that he had observed, the alteration had been productive of increased drunkenness and disorder, and he thought that the time was arrived when some amendments ought to be made. The evidence of the Magistracy and the Clergy, in districts both great and small, and even of some of the working classes, was, that the great number of these beer-shops, spread over the country, led the labouring people into idleness and drunkenness, which, not unfrequently, was the means of the consummation of crime. He did not think that it was any answer to his objections, to say that the Bill had not had a fair trial. Such was not the fact. The Act had been in operation eighteen months, and had been found to fail in all the objects which had been anticipated by its projectors. The shops were opened as early as four in the morning, and did not close till ten at night. The remedies he should propose were, first, the establishing a more complete and perfect responsibility to the magistracy on the part of the beer-seller than existed at present. There was too great facility at present given to parties applying for licenses, which should be checked, by making it necessary that they previously should obtain a certificate that he was a proper person to hold such license, signed by the Clergyman, or two Magistrates of the district. He, should, moreover, propose, that every individual seeking a license for a beer-shop, should be required to give the security, to the amount of 20l. each, of two householders, assessed for the taxes, resident in the same parish, for the good and orderly conduct of his house. He should propose, also, that the hours for the sale of beer, instead of, as at present, being from four o'clock in the morning until ten at night, should be from six o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock at night. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Sale of Beer Act.

Mr. Fysche Palmer

said, the hon. member for Durham was an advocate of the old monopoly which had so long disgraced the country, and appeared to be desirous of reviving the system under which the brewers met yearly to regulate the pure strength and degree of wholesomeness, or unwholesomeness, of beer. He objected to the hon. Member's attempt to bring back the beer trade to a state of things which had been the subject of long and general complaint, and which caused the substitution, to a considerable extent, of spirits for beer, in the consumption of the humbler classes. One of the evils of the system consisted in the mode of granting licenses, which admitted of the grossest partiality and injustice. He had hailed with pleasure the passing of an Act that struck at the root of the mischief, and which, he maintained, had been attended with great advantage to the community. Such being his feeling on the subject, he should oppose the hon. Member's Motion for altering the Beer Bill, in the outset, and in every future stage of its progress.

Lord Althorp

could not agree to the principles on which the hon. Member proposed to found his Bill. He had no objection to the enforcement, as far as possible, of police regulations, with a view to the preservation of order, but disliked the hon. Member's plan of previous security. Neither could he consent to the proposed alteration in the hours of keeping beer-shops open, thinking, as he did, that, if any change were made, it ought to be one which should assimilate the hours observed by public-houses and beer-shops. The effect of saying that beer should not be drank on the premises was to declare, that no beer should be sold except to known persons. He thought it better not to attempt to legislate on the subject at present. It might have been well, perhaps, if the hon. Member had moved for a Committee of Inquiry at an earlier period of the session; but he (Lord Althorp) must object to the introduction of the Bill at a time when it was too much to expect that the matter could be duly considered.

Mr. Hunt

opposed the Bill, and expressed a wish that beer-shops and public- houses might be placed on the same footing; and, above all, hoped that the power of licensing, as hitherto exercised, would not be allowed to remain in the hands of Magistrates, lay and ecclesiastical.

Mr. Weyland

had seconded the Motion; not that he approved of the hon. Member's Bill, but because he wished to afford an opportunity of discussing the subject. He declared his opinion that beer-houses were injurious to the community, and ruinous to their owners. Perhaps the House would be surprised to hear, that the number of beer and ale houses in England and Wales was 80,000; which was in the proportion of one to every 200 of the population, or forty families. Half the proprietors of these houses were in a state of ruin, and the commodity sold was frequently of the worst description. At the same time that he saw great evil under the existing system, he did not think the hon. Member's efforts to correct it would be attended with success, because his Motion was short-coming and partial. He would have all men qualified to keep beer-houses, on giving proper security, and thought no distinction ought to exist between the regulations of two sets of houses selling the same article. He did not see why beer might not be sold in a shop, over the counter, like any other commodity. This, however, did not apply to the act of consuming on the premises. On the whole, he recommended his hon. friend (more particularly after the remarks of the noble Lord) to withdraw his Motion.

Sir Edward Sugden

was not averse from a free trade in beer, but wished to see the enforcement of police regulations, which should prevent beer-shops from being converted into tippling-houses. However, he thought it better for the hon. Mover to leave the matter in the hands of Government, where a disposition appeared to exist to regulate it. He believed that the great body of the Magistrates desired not to have the power of granting licenses.

Mr. Strickland

expressed the greatest possible satisfaction at what he had heard from the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon this question. He was inclined, if any distinction were made, to give the advantage to those places where beer was sold, rather than those where gin was sold.

The House divided on the Motion:—Ayes 12; Noes 109—Majority 97.